Saturday, 8 September 2012

Writing Ghosts

I'm currently reading Jeff Bennington's The Indie Author's Guide To The Universe, wishing like crazy that I could turn the clock back nine months. If I had read this excellent book back then, I surely wouldn't have published The Legend of Finndragon's Curse when I did. But that's not the reason why I'm writing this post. No, I'm writing this post because of something Jeff wrote which has triggered a memory of a strange event in my life. He has written a chapter entitled 'How Ghosts Have Helped My Writing Career' and this brought back an old memory for me. This is my very own ghost story.

I was 22 years old and had just moved back to the family home, after a couple of years spent living in the nurses accommodation at the hospital where I had been studying. On returning home I was given the downstairs bedroom that had been my grandmothers room until she had died three years before, aged 86. Nan, as we all called her, had moved in when she became too frail to continue living alone. Over the last few years of her life she had suffered with crippling arthritis and was virtually blind due to glaucoma. If that wasn't enough, she had also had several Transient Ichaemic Attacks (TIAs) or mini-strokes as they are sometimes known.

In spite of all of her problems, Nan's mind was still as sharp as ever. My earliest recollections of her were the wonderful days before I started school when she would come round to our house and babysit me when my parents were at work. My favourite game was inspired by Richard Greene's Robin Hood from the old television series. Nan was always Maid Marion and of course I was my eponymous hero. Armed with a coat hanger for a longbow, together we fought off the ominous threat of the Sheriff of Nottingham on a daily basis.

A few years later, during the early 1970's, Britain was gripped by a miners strike that threatened to cripple the country, which at the time was almost entirely dependent on coal to fuel the power plants. Such was the scale of the crisis that the Government had to introduce power cuts which blacked out the whole country every evening. Strangely enough, those were some of the happiest days of my life as the family gathered together to entertain ourselves.

The loss of TV, at that time we had the grand total of three channels to choose from, meant that we resorted to traditional parlour games to keep ourselves amused. We had such fun playing charades by candle-light and even put on some improvised musical extravaganzas and plays, which in my rose-tinted memory would have graced any West End or Broadway stage. Nan was a maestro on the piano even though she couldn't read a note of music and composed her own tunes complete with lyrics. She also knew every song that had been sung in the old music halls, or so it seemed and had the inventive mind of a poet, often penning witty or poignant verses.

Such simple entertainment that has sadly been lost to the vast majority of the children of the digital age. The Von Trapp Family we most certainly were not, but my four siblings and I, complete with Mam and Dad and of course Nan, didn't care one iota. We raised the rafters night after night as the show went on and on.

So now, some 13 or 14 years later, here was I sleeping in the room which had been her last. Not long after I moved back, Mam came into my room as I sat on the bed writing. She looked at the small pile of A4 handwritten paper by my side and asked what I was doing. She was somewhat taken aback when I said that I was writing a poem.

During my time living at the hospital, I had started to put my thoughts and feelings into verse. I didn't consider myself a poet, just someone who wrote the occasional poem. As a guy in my early twenties, I hadn't broadcast to the world or even my closest family that I was writing. At the time I worried that people might think that poetry wasn't a manly pastime. Each weekend I was flinging my body into the physically violent arena of rugby union. Shortly after my 21st birthday I had suffered a triple fracture of my lower leg and ankle as well as a dislocation. It had taken two operations to put my broken leg back together and it was during the 16 weeks of recuperation and rehabilitation that I started to write.

The only person who knew about my writing was my flat mate John. He was a fellow student nurse and a born again christian, who perhaps subconsciously influenced a few of my poems with his beliefs. I somehow felt comfortable in letting John into my own little world, perhaps searching for some sort of approval. My poems consisted of feelings of despondency and gloom when my predicament dragged my mood down and love and hope when it bounced back up again. They were almost without exception simple poems depicting material things; nothing too deep or abstract. The scribblings of someone barely out of his teens.

Now Mam was the second person to learn of my word lust. It took her a moment to take in what I had just disclosed and then she asked if I could do something quite unexpected. "Can you complete the last poem that Nan was writing?" she asked hopefully. "She told me the first two lines before she died and I remember them well." Then she proceeded to tell me what the lines were:.
"Standing on the mountain top,
Master of all I survey."

"Well... I can try," I responded, wondering how on earth I could finish Nan's final creative piece of work.

As I spoke, Mam had picked up the pile of hand written poems and was flicking through, or more like shuffling the loose papers in her hands when she suddenly froze. I saw her eyes fill with tears and it seemed like several minutes passed by as she read a random page. Finally she tried to speak, but for a moment no words were forthcoming, "'ve already done it!" she managed to find her voice again.

"What do you mean?" I asked, puzzled by this statement.

She passed me the poem that she had somehow picked from the middle of 30 plus sheets and pointed out the first line. It was word for word the first line that Nan had composed, but the second line was not the same.

"Now look at the first line of the second verse," she instructed.

I did as she asked and was surprised to see that this line was remarkably similar, although not identical, to Nan's second line. We looked at each other and my eyes filled up as quickly as hers and tears ran down both our faces. I don't think that either of us spoke for some time as we both tried to comprehend what we were reading. In my mind I thought that this was just some almost unbelievable coincidence, but I knew that Mam didn't think so. She was convinced that somehow, by means that she couldn't ever understand, that Nan had channelled her words through me.

Now I'd had a fleeting paranormal experience one night-shift whilst on duty at the hospital, (amazingly my brother who now works at the same hospital, had an identical experience only last year, some 25 years after mine) but this is not the time to talk about that. So my mind wasn't closed to Mam's insistence, but I have to say that I was extremely sceptical.

However, after reading through the whole poem for the first time since I had put pen to paper, my scepticism began to soften. The style was unlike mine; there was nothing truly concrete in the text. I could remember writing it and at the time not knowing what I was trying to say or what I was feeling; I had written a poem that I didn't even understand myself. So I read it again and again and gradually I could see my Nan in the words on the page. I struggled to believe what I was now reading; could this be a description of the moment of her passing from this world into the next. I had even left two lines between the verses at that exact moment.

By the time I had come to this conclusion, sitting in the room where Nan had spent her last years, on the bed where she had laid her head, I felt an inner peace. The poem was uplifting, describing her release from suffering and being set free. I know that there will probably be more sceptics than believers in a story like this, but the comfort that it brought to my mother and to myself can't be underestimated.

You can read the poem, if you wish, which is produced below. Nobody outside of my family or closest of friends have read it, but today the time has come for the world to read Marie Louise Williams' last poem.

God bless you Nan.

Lonely Shadows

Standing on the mountain top,
I watch the shadows flee,
Hypnotised by the rising moon,
That beckons out to me.

Surveying all before me,
Blind, I Cannot see,
The apparitions of the night,
Sent to capture me.

An Armada of thoughts fill my eyes,
I know I am not free,
I stare into a shroud of darkness,
Is this the end of me?

Standing at the waters edge,
Gazing out to sea,
Mesmerised by the white crested waves,
Rushing in for me.

Surveying all before me,
As far as I can see,
Moonlight dancing on the skipping waves,
Reaching out to me.

An army of waves reach the shore,
Coming to set me free,
To release me from this evil world,
They take me out to sea.

And as I quietly slip away,
The last entry to my mind,
Is the tranquil radiance of your smile,
The love I’ve left behind.


  1. That's a beautiful poem. I'm amazed and glad that I had a small part in the healing that you must have experienced by writing this post and publishing that incredible poem.

  2. Thanks Jeff, I certainly wouldn't have shared this if I hadn't read your excellent book. Thanks too for taking the time to comment and your kind remarks.